This Organic Farmer is Growing Vegetables for the African Expat Market

farming upmarket supplier

Siphiwe Sithole is the founder and CEO of African Marmalade, an organic farming business. She started her business three years ago after she identified a gap in the market for authentic African food.

Sithole grows and supplies vegetables like cassava leaves, okra, collard greens and jute mallow, many of which are still relatively unknown in many South African households. Her target market is African expats. However, her produce is also attracting the palates of health-conscious shoppers. Once a week, Sithole supplies produce to a number of independent fruit and vegetable markets in Johannesburg, which include the upscale Jacksons Real Food Market in Bryanston, the Randburg Wholesale Market and City Organics in Rustenburg.

Vegetable farmer Siphiwe Sithole

Vegetable farmer, Siphiwe Sithole.

Fin24.com reports that Sithole’s produce grows organically in small communal lands in the Mpumalanga province, but other products are sourced from a group of female subsistence farmers in Swaziland and Mozambique.

“The land we work on is below a hectare. We grow pumpkin leaves, sweet potato and beans,” Sithole explained.

In the interview, Sithole shares the challenges that she has had to overcome to get to where she is today and what it takes to make it in the agricultural sector.

Find out what drives Sithole’s business: 

Start with what you have

She told Fin24.com: “My plan was to provide African staples to African expats who struggled to find their favourite food in local markets.”

Sithole quit her job after she got seed funding from a fund sponsored by the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. She then went back to her village in Mpumalanga to clear the family’s communal land and to start growing her first crop.

The time I spent there [Swaziland] was better than doing an MBA. It was so enriching to learn from these women, whose indigenous ways of organic farming

Passion and perseverance are key to success

She made her break into the industry during 2015, however this coincided with the start of a severe drought that gripped many parts of the country. “The harvest was not impressive, but I persevered,” she said in the same interview.

“Farming is challenging, and it requires patience and dedication. You must understand that the yield can be very small. That is why everyone who wants to get involved in production must have a passion for it.”

She added: “If you want to succeed in this field you must be prepared to take risks and work hard.”

Learn from others within your industry

Sithole told Fin24 that she spent three months in a village in Swaziland to learn about organic vegetable farming from rural women.

“The time I spent there was better than doing an MBA. It was so enriching to learn from these women, whose indigenous ways of organic farming has been passed down from generations,” she said.

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Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan
Melissa Javan is a writer with nine years' experience in the media industry. She enjoys blogging and taking part in Twitter chats. You can find her on Twitter @melissa_nel.